Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Election winners: A poet, a prosecutor and a partier in a Prius

Dean Fortin won easy re-election as mayor of Victoria, though two incumbent councillors he endorsed endured a surprising defeat. Chad Hipolito photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 21, 2011


Scenes from an election:

The news left John Luton crestfallen. He had lost his seat on Victoria city council. At 57, he wondered aloud about his future employment.

“I’m not afraid of hard work,” he said, before noting, “It’s a time of life when it can be very hard to find a job.”

All around him, people were celebrating the re-election of Victoria mayor Dean Fortin and two members of what was billed as Dean’s Team — councillors Pam Madoff and Marianne Alto. Mr. Luton and Lynn Hunter, a former member of Parliament, were two members of the team who lost their re-election bids.

Mr. Luton lingered at Mr. Fortin’s victory celebration at the Union Pacific Coffee Co. to thank volunteers.

He was in the midst of contemplating his future when interrupted by Ben Isitt, 33, an academic and author who had just won election to council.

Mr. Isitt grabbed his right hand.

“You were the part of the Dean Team that I most wanted to work with,” Mr. Isitt said.

As they continued their exchange, the ebullient Mr. Isitt pumped Mr. Luton’s hand again and again.

Mr. Luton offered a wan smile. He then put on his helmet and reflective vest to cycle home alone in the dark.

* * *

Victoria is still small enough that some campaigns operate from the kitchen table.

After the polls closed, Victoria councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe and her husband Phil, a longtime bus driver, parked on a street in Chinatown around the corner from where her family once operated a store selling caulk boots to loggers. (It is now a tattoo parlour.) The couple listened to the results on the radio.

After her re-election was announced, they held a two-person victory party in their Prius. Then, they got out and walked a block to join the throng at the Fortin celebration.


The other two new councillors in Victoria are restaurateur Shellie Gudgeon and Lisa Helps, whose name doubles as a campaign slogan.

* * *

In neighbouring Oak Bay, a pleasant municipality described as being behind a Tweed Curtain, the seasonal pleasures of leaf-raking and strolling a high street redolent with roasting chestnuts have been disturbed by the unseemliness of a competitive electoral race.

Mayor Christopher Causton, who lost a campaign for a seat in Parliament earlier this year, decided to retire after 15 years of wielding the gavel at council. Mr. Causton was known for showing up on the doorstep of every new resident to bring them official greetings.

His retirement pitted council veterans Nils Jensen and Hazel Braithwaite in a contest for the mayor’s chair.

A major issue in the race — nuisance deer.

Mr. Jensen, a Crown prosecutor, defeated his council rival by 3,197 votes to 2,769.

His campaign website features an impressive resumé, yet neglects to mention his foray into provincial politics. Though not known as a New Democrat, Mr. Jensen emerged as a challenger for the provincial party leadership eight years ago. On the first ballot, he finished second to eventual winner Carole James.

The Oak Bay council poll was topped by Tara Ney, the daughter of the late Frank Ney, a swashbuckling mayor who dressed as a sabre-waving pirate to promote the bathtub races that made Nanaimo famous. Ms. Ney is more superhero than buccaneer — she once earned a commendation from the Governor General for alerting a neighbouring family to a house fire. Among the achievements listed on her website was convincing the local Starbucks to open early at 5:30 a.m. so that she could begin her day’s work.

* * *

In Saanich, Frank Leonard held on the mayor’s chair despite a stiff challenge from former NDP MLA David Cubberley. Fun fact: Mr. Leonard’s infant son with Jackie Ngai, a former councillor, is named Atticus. Atticus Finch is the lawyer hero of Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

* * *

Paul Reitsma once again placed his name before the voters of Parksville, where he served as mayor from 1987 to 1996 before winning election to the Legislature.

“I think that those without some baggage have not traveled much on life’s journey,” he said during the campaign.

As a Liberal MLA, he had been caught by the local newspaper writing letters to the editor under fake names. The exposé generated the most memorable headline in recent B.C. newspapering history: “MLA Reitsma is a liar and we can prove it.” He resigned on the cusp of becoming the first politician in the Commonwealth to be recalled by voters.

Mr. Reitsma comeback failed, as he took just 749 votes. Chris Burger won the mayoralty with 2,355.

* * *

Port McNeill mayor Gerry Furney, a poetry-writing Irishman who has held elected office in the Vancouver Island logging town for 43 years, held off a challenge from a councillor. Furney took 572 votes to Shelley Downey’s 394.

Last year, His Worship released “Popcorn for Breakfast,” a volume of rhyming verse. The title poem describes a hockey father seeking morning nourishment from arena vending machines:

“(O)f the junk food I ate there first/ Popcorn for breakfast was surely the worst./ The coffee was stale, the hot chocolate cold,/ Sandwiches tasteless except for the mould.”

He’s also written about logger’s equipment: “It’s sad that men in fancy suits/ Don’t know much about caulk boots.”

He’s no Seamus Heaney, but he has a certain North Island charm.

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